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Genome Biol Evol. 2011;3:44-54. doi: 10.1093/gbe/evq082. Epub 2010 Dec 8.

Complete nucleomorph genome sequence of the nonphotosynthetic alga Cryptomonas paramecium reveals a core nucleomorph gene set.

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Canadian Institute for Advanced Research, Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology, Dalhousie University, Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada.


Nucleomorphs are the remnant nuclei of algal endosymbionts that were engulfed by nonphotosynthetic host eukaryotes. These peculiar organelles are found in cryptomonad and chlorarachniophyte algae, where they evolved from red and green algal endosymbionts, respectively. Despite their independent origins, cryptomonad and chlorarachniophyte nucleomorph genomes are similar in size and structure: they are both <1 million base pairs in size (the smallest nuclear genomes known), comprised three chromosomes, and possess subtelomeric ribosomal DNA operons. Here, we report the complete sequence of one of the smallest cryptomonad nucleomorph genomes known, that of the secondarily nonphotosynthetic cryptomonad Cryptomonas paramecium. The genome is 486 kbp in size and contains 518 predicted genes, 466 of which are protein coding. Although C. paramecium lacks photosynthetic ability, its nucleomorph genome still encodes 18 plastid-associated proteins. More than 90% of the "conserved" protein genes in C. paramecium (i.e., those with clear homologs in other eukaryotes) are also present in the nucleomorph genomes of the cryptomonads Guillardia theta and Hemiselmis andersenii. In contrast, 143 of 466 predicted C. paramecium proteins (30.7%) showed no obvious similarity to proteins encoded in any other genome, including G. theta and H. andersenii. Significantly, however, many of these "nucleomorph ORFans" are conserved in position and size between the three genomes, suggesting that they are in fact homologous to one another. Finally, our analyses reveal an unexpected degree of overlap in the genes present in the independently evolved chlorarachniophyte and cryptomonad nucleomorph genomes: ∼80% of a set of 120 conserved nucleomorph genes in the chlorarachniophyte Bigelowiella natans were also present in all three cryptomonad nucleomorph genomes. This result suggests that similar reductive processes have taken place in unrelated lineages of nucleomorph-containing algae.

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